Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, September 14, 2017, 1:32 p.m.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell* is going to be my most carefully composed, diligently examined, and thoroughly questioned novel to date. At the moment, I’m taking a break from the long slog of rewriting and reconsidering what will be my eighth novel. Twice I interrupted the process to write stock car racing novels, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated. Partly it was because I found it delightful to invent brash young Barrie Jarman, and partly because Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell had me good and buffaloed.
The racing novels took three months apiece. I started writing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell about fifteen months ago. Last winter, with the planned story nearing completion, I decided I should factor in the real-life election of Donald J. Trump. Of course, the new president in the book — who is not a character at all, just a reference – is named Martin J. Gaynes. The change in the novel isn’t about the man; it’s about the country. I’ll leave future readers to speculate on how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would have ended had Gaynes not been elected.
The Barrie Jarman Adventures are fun. I hung around race tracks for twenty years professionally and for most of my life otherwise. I saw stock car racing as a grade-school kid, a teen, and a college student long before I started going to races to write about them. That’s why I made Barrie a brash combination of old and new. I’ve seen old and new.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a return to the tone of my other novels, all of which were more serious, complicated and ambitious. The heroes are likable but imperfect. The bad guys are horrible. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell jumps around like The Audacity of Dope and Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s even more conspiratorial than Forgive Us Our Trespasses. I drew from a couple of the short stories in Longer Songs. It’s my sixth novel in which someone plays guitar.
I play guitar.
Maybe this has taken so long because I’m getting more careful. Even while I was writing the racing novels, I was pondering the new ending. I kept editing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell while I was writing about Barrie Jarman. Without question, I’ve put more time into it than those that preceded it.
The first-person viewpoint – through the eyes of Barrie’s Uncle Charlie – taught me how to be funnier. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell may be the least funny of my novels. I’m back to “amusing,” not out-and-out “funny,” and third person. The racing novels cleared the “funny” bar, in my jaded estimation.
As I close this blog and focus more on a Red Sox afternoon game, I’m about fifty pages from completing the fourth run-through of the existing text. I have shaved more than ten thousand words. Much of that was painful. A lot of it was entertaining but extraneous to the story.
I expect the new ending is going to be roughly a different ten thousand words from the ones I cut out. I’m hoping to get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell out before the end of the year, but I haven’t rushed any other part of it, and I’m not going to rush the last, either.
I hope I’m evolving, not just this novel.
*Gets italics when it gets published.
If you’d like me to mail you a signed copy of Life Gets Complicated, or any of my other novels, you can find my address and instructions at montedutton.com. (montedutton.com/blog/merchandise). Or, just drop me a line and you can pay through PayPal.
I’ve written seven novels and a collection of short stories. I’ve also written a number of books about sports, mostly about NASCAR. You can find most of them here.
The Kindle versions of my books, where available, can be found above. Links below are to print editions.
Lightning in a Bottle is the story of Barrie Jarman, the hope of stock car racing’s future. Barrie, a 18-year-old from Spartanburg, South Carolina, is both typical of his generation and a throwback to the sport’s glory days.
Life Gets Complicated follows Barrie Jarman as he moves up to FASCAR’s premier series. He and Angela Hughston face discrimination for their interracial love affair, and Barrie has to surmount unexpected obstacles that test his resolve.
Cowboys Come Home is a modern western. Two World War II heroes come home from the Pacific to Texas.
I’ve written a crime novel about the corrosive effects of patronage and the rise and fall of a powerful politician and his dysfunctional family, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.
I’ve written about what happens to a football coach when he loses everything, Crazy of Natural Causes. It’s a fable of life’s absurdity.
I’ve written a tale of the Sixties in the South, centered on school integration and a high school football team, The Intangibles.
I’ve written a rollicking yarn about the feds trying to track down and manipulate a national hero who just happens to be a pot-smoking songwriter, The Audacity of Dope.
I’ve written a collection of 11 short stories, all derived from songs I wrote, Longer Songs.
Signed copies of Lightning in a Bottle are on sale at Emma Jane’s (see ad above). Signed copies of all my fiction are also on sale at L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton, South Carolina.
Follow me on Twitter @montedutton, @hmdutton (about writing), and/or @wastedpilgrim (more opinionated and irreverent). I’m on Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Instagram (TUG50), and Google-Plus (MonteDuttonWriter).
Write me at hutdut@firstname.lastname@example.org or “message” me through social media.